A to Z of Dundee

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January 21st 2020
Published: January 21st 2020
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Everyone will remember their marathon PB. Mine was set in Dundee in a typical dreich day with sleight falling for the second half of the race. I had felt very good travelling up and was delighted before hand to meet footballer Tommy Walker who had been a most cultured midfielder for Airdrie during the late seventies and early eighties. I will never forget the end of the race, clearing the finishing area and seeing my dad running towards me, my face etched in delight after crashing under three hours with eight minutes to spare. Bracing myself for congratulations, my old man’s first words were “Tommy Walker did 2:39”. Thanks Dad!

33 years have passed making the A to Z of Dundee in contrast to that day. There was a heatwave rather than snow and the run was likely ten miles shorter although likely to take me a fair bit longer. Walking stiffly from the car to the start point meant I didn’t exactly have my race face on and it was a shambling jog that kicked off from Abertay University. I had been offered a place there as a school leaver on a rather generic business management course when it was known as Dundee Tech. Instead I went straight into work. Perhaps for the best. Many of the sections of the run would be quite short and this was one of them – along Bell Street and turn left and watch out for a lane on the right hand side called Bash Street. The Beano, part of the DC Thomson stable, plays a big part of Dundee and I was delighted to find a street named after the school. Sadly I didn’t see the big lad Fatty who I’m slimmer than or the one with the sticky out ears called Plug who would make me look handsome in comparison. I cut through the shopping centre to use the loo – I was taking no risks with hydration in the heat – on my way to the Caird Hall. As well as meeting Tommy Walker before the marathon, I have seen Morrisey there. The building has also appeared in a number of films including one where it was supposed to be the Kremlin. A few yards away is another Dundee hero – Desperate Dan.

Some of the new statues in Dundee are a revelation and a great acknowledgment of the importance of the comics to the city. Also, celebrating stars of the Beano and Dandy as statues engages the young who would be a little less impressed with a trek round Edinburgh to see the heroes of the Enlightenment. I was feeling just “dandy” about hitting four letters so quickly and then had a run of three km to get to the Eastern Wharf at the harbour.This is the industrial part of the harbour with some heavy engineering taking place so there was no surprise that it was barriered off. It did allow a pleasant run along the front which I retraced back to the station and then cut back into the city streets to find Fat Sams. This is one of the oldest surviving gig venues in the city and still gets a good variety of bands . I remember seeing The Wendys play there in 1990 and am still kicking myself for not going up for The Lovely Eggs last year . Close by is another vital part of the local music scene – Groucho Records- which is one of the longest independent record stores in the country. The venue ( and Beat Generator) and the shop have promoted the music from the city for decades all the way from The Associates to The View and everything possible in between.

Surrounded by large buildings the old graveyard called The Howff looks incongruous but gives a bit of tranquillity amongst the bustle of the city. Each of the seven trades is marked on the gravestones with a symbol. This included hammer men who were metal workers. Not to be confused with hammer throwers who play in the dark blue of Dundee FC I then ran across the city centre to return to the harbour and placed some of this triviality aside for a few minutes to pay respects at the International Submarine Memorial. This lists the names of submariners who lost their lives during World War Two. It is unique in that it includes names of Russian and Norwegian allies who of course, should always be remembered also. The memorial is a little difficult to find due to the building of offices and shops around City Quay but well worth the effort.

A further mile brought me to the Jute Café Bar at the Dundee Arts Centre. Jute played an important roll in Dundee’s industrial past. I chose not to stop at this stage as I wanted to press on past Kennys Music shop and start the long climb up the Law.There were other options for “L” but I wanted to see the panorama from the summit of the city’s hill. I was glad I could take my time and didn’t have a race number pinned to my top. Just below the top are some of the city’s nicest houses and no doubt living on the hill is an ambition for many. Dundee is a densely populated city with a high percentage of citizens living in flats, so the top of the Law gives a sense of escape and some welcome green space. Another memory I have is of seeing a Tour of Britain time trial which finished at the top.

After a bit of a breather at the summit of the Law and a gaze over the panorama of the city below, it was time to plummet down into the heat of the centre to tackle the second half of the alphabet. Plummet is a fantastic word. Not liked by football fans if their teams are plummeting down a league table or investors if stock values are plummeting on the financial markets. In contrast , hill runners and cyclists love a good plummet. My plummet was down the steps , through Dudhope Park and through the underpass at Abertay Uni.
I was on the way to the Mcmanus Galleries for a well earned cup of tea and sit in the sun. The chap in the café warned me about seagulls however the sweaty effects of the heat made me a no-go zone to even the most hardy gull. The Mcmanus is well worth a visit as it charts the history of Dundee as a city , its industry , her people and the future. Nice café too.
Refreshed by tea and a Danish pastry, I then trotted the half mile to the North Carr Lightship which is moored at City Wharf after 40 years of service along the Fife coast keeping vessels off rocks and beaches. At times when she was in the Firth of Forth , her fog horn could be heard ten miles away causing a stooshie in some of the posher areas of North Edinburgh. She looks a bit weary now but is enjoying a well earned rest on the quayside closest to the city centre.
The Dundee accent is often maligned for its flat sounding vowels so it was deeply ironic that it served up a host of interesting landmarks under A,E, I, O and U. "O" was obviously very special as it gave an opportunity to visit a local hero. Indeed the Oor Wullie bucket trial, set up in his home of Dundee , Glasgow and Edinburgh is worth a visit on its own , however I retraced my steps to the permanent statue of the great lad which is adjacent to the statue of Burns outside the Mcmanus. Again its brilliant that youngsters can be introduced to art in this way

More statues in the same vain were to follow as the next stop was the Penguins outside the Overgate shopping centre. Sculpted by Angela Hunter , these wee birds are often dressed in jumpers by local folk. Links with penguins can be traced back to Dundee’s whaling past which is thankfully part of a by gone era. Abhorred in the modern age , Scots impact on the whaling industry over a 100 years ago was huge
There is a well worn joke about a whaler managing to bring a penguin home on a voyage and keeping the wee thing in his home as a pet. One day when walking it down the street a police officer stopped him and insisted he take it to the zoo. Two days later the pair met again and the constable reprimanded the man " I though I told you to take that penguin to the zoo". The reply was of course " I did. He loved it . We are going to the cinema today".

The Queens Hotel was visible from the penguins and started a series of very short runs between letters. I ddint go into the hotel but jogged round the corner to the rep theatre which hosts many shows , including one featuring Oor Wullie. A nice bucket trail model is picturedIt was time to run back towards the waterfront stopping in Slessor Gardens on the way. Despite being caged by the trunk roads , the gardens , named after Mary Slessor , offer a pl;ace to sit and relax . Around the edge are seating areas and plants to reflect various areas of the world. In a city centre where space is hard to find, there were a number of people enjoying the greenery despite the hubbub nearby.I was spoilt for choice for the letter T and apologise to anyone expecting Tannadice. A fine place where I have seen a European Cup Semi Final between United and Roma and countless games when following Airdrie that have reaped only a single victory . 2-1 with substitute Peter Duffield scoring in the 89th and 93rd minutes … highlights on Crimewatch as the joke goes.. Instead I chose to use the Tay bridge , The Tay river and the Telford Beacon which used to guard the entrance to the harbour I ran east from there along the waterfront to get to The HMS Unicorn which is the only surviving Georgian gun ship left. I didn’t know of this until I planned the run and will come back to the city to visit it . Surviving since 1824 is an incredible achievement for a wooden warship particularly when she was fighting Napoleon at the height ( !) of his powersFrom one of the oldest checkpoints , I then ran back along the waterfront to see the newest – Victoria & Albert museum. I visited this a few weeks ago and can see the attraction and the place the V & A will play in Dundee becoming a must visit tourist destination. To be honest the design stuff was a bit much for me and I prefer the historical focus of the Mcmanus instead . Nice though that the city should have a focus other than shopping centres built decades ago – speaking of which – it was a short run to the WellgateAvoiding the crowds on the main drag , I found a genuine X in the Xplore shop . Xplore being the name of the local bus company . You don't need to run to enjoy the attractions of Dundee I had found permanent landmarks for each letter but struggled to find a “Y” . I intended to use the Y of Minnie the Minx’s catapult but fortunately the Oor Wullie bucket trail had an exhibit on the next street called Yee Ha Wullie with our hero in cowboy gear . Saying that Minnie the Minx is another comic hero and a stalwart of feminism and a great role model of equality and can do attitude. I salute the Beano which has always ensured that girls are seen as good as boys. In terms of Minnie , as a former US president once said about Madeleine Allbright , I’m not sure what she does to our enemies , but she scares the hell out of me. We finished at the west side of the city centre at Dundee University hunting for the Zoology museum . As often happens with these alphabets , the end can be a bit of an anti climax . This involved running aimlessly round the campus looking for a building that was not that well sign posted and then discovering that the elusive Z was behind a security door. I was grateful to a member of staff for pointing the way although they looked non plussed as to why I wanted to go there in sweaty running kit. If you have reached this far you will gather Im a fan of the city. There is far more to Dundee than an undeserved reputation. Ive seen some good football, great gigs and enjoyed a few good nights out. The Dundonian approach to tourism is positive and inclusive of all ages and the way forward for the future . Attitudes to travel will have to change due to the climate emergency and cities who are on the front foot like Dundee to attract visitors will be ready to welcome the tourists they deserve. Time for a "pi" and a pint

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